Without a win and with just a single goal through its first four Big Sky Conference matches, the Montana soccer team needed a breakthrough on its final league road trip to keep its postseason hopes alive.
The Grizzlies got just what they needed with a 3-0 victory over North Dakota Friday afternoon at UND’s Bronson Field in Grand Forks.
Montana (4-6-4, 1-3-1 BSC) took a season-high 29 shots, senior Maddey Frey scored a pair of second-half goals that broke the match open, and freshman goalkeeper Kailey Norman earned her first career shutout to give the Grizzlies their first win in three weeks.
“This is definitely what we needed,” UM coach Mark Plakorus said. “Most of all it was good to see us come out and compete. We were focused and ready to go today, and that’s the first step. And then we took advantage of some of the scoring chances we created.”
Facing a team that lost its first three Big Sky matches of the season by a single goal and hungry for its first-ever league win, Montana got the important opening goal in the 19th minute when sophomore Mackenzie Akins struck for her third goal of the season.
Akins’ goal, her first points since totaling two goals and four assists in a three-match stretch in early September, came off an assist from junior Allie Simon. It was the first point of the year for Simon, who missed the season’s first nine matches because of injury.
Montana still led just 1-0 at the break despite holding a 13-4 advantage in first-half shots and 5-0 edge in corner kicks. It was Frey who removed all drama from the match when she scored unassisted goals in the 52nd and 86th minutes.
Frey’s second goal, which came after she carried the ball up the left side and into the 6-yard box, was her fourth of the season and fourth in Montana’s last six matches since she started playing fewer minutes at outside back and more at midfield. Frey now leads the team in goals.
Injuries to a number of Montana’s midfielders this season made Frey’s position shift a necessity. The ongoing development of redshirt freshmen outside backs Tess Brenneman and Mary Gintz has allowed it to work.
“Maddey didn’t become a defender until she came to Montana, so (her ability to score goals) hasn’t really been a surprise,” Plakorus said. “She’s always been one of our better attacking defenders. She’s a good athlete on the ball and strikes it well.”
North Dakota entered the match ranked last in the Big Sky in shots, at just over eight per game, so it wasn’t expected that Norman, who was making her second straight start in goal, would be tested often.
Her only save in the match came in the 14th minute when she stopped UND’s Noel Scherer. It kept the match scoreless and didn’t allow the underdog to get any early confidence.
“Kailey did fine today,” Plakorus said. “She’s still adjusting to playing, but every minute out there gives her more and more confidence.”
Twelve players took shots for Montana, with seven starters each taking multiple shots. Frey’s match-high seven shots, three of which were on goal, were four more than her previous career high.
North Dakota keeper Kristi Hestdalen made six saves in the loss. UND (1-12-1, 0-4-0 BSC) dropped to 0-13-0 in Big Sky matches in the team’s second year in the league.
Because of a slow start to its league schedule, Montana is in a position where one more loss might end its chances of making the four-team Big Sky Conference tournament, which the Grizzlies have made in their first two seasons under Plakorus.
On Sunday Montana will face its final Big Sky road match, at Northern Colorado, before closing out its league schedule with three games at home. The Bears (5-4-3, 1-1-1 BSC), who host Eastern Washington Friday night, are unbeaten at Jackson Stadium this season.
“This win will give us some confidence, and we’ll be able to build off this, but we’ll need to be even better on Sunday,” Plakorus said.
Sunday’s game against Northern Colorado in Greeley will start at noon.